Three AM Thoughts
It's been the sort of night I used to have a lot of but haven't had for a long time: fitful, waking up every 45 minutes or so. I have been laying in bed trying to figure out why, and certainly the failure to post weekly on this Blog has something to do with it. With apologies to you, Gentle Readers. But my creative juices have been entirely soaked up by finishing up Silence: A User's Guide Vol. 1.
The good news, however, is that it is finished. I'm just nit-picking now. The editor wants it on May 1st so I have a deadline. Rowan Williams, bless him, has written the most wonderful Foreword. We are looking to have books in November. The book will also be available on Kindle, but when you see the cover—O my—you may want to own the thing. It will be published in paperback. Watch this space!
I don't know yet when the reprint of The Fountain and the Furnace will be available, but I'm guessing on no basis at all that it will probably be this summer. In the meantime there is Vol. 2 of Silence: A User's Guide to write, which is promised for January. But I am still going to try to do better on the posts here, even if it is only exegesis.
The Society for the Study of Theology conference in Durham is Monday-Wednesday of next week and I will be there only because the subject is Speech and Silence and two of my colleagues insisted that I go. Any of you who are in the area: I'd love to see you. Let me know by a "Do not post" comment and we'll find a time to meet up. I will present a 20-minute account of the book there. I will be wearing armour . . . at least, spiritual armour.
We have just had two of the loveliest days imaginable; very warm for March. Both days I puttered happily with a trowel in the garden planting lupines and snapdragons, and doing odd chores, enveloped in the perfume of hyacinths. After years of soil amendments the garden, and even the bags of compost, are full of fat worms. There are few things that make me happier than sitting in the soil planting seedlings, my hands black with it, smudges on my face, basking in the sun as each tiny plant is set on its journey in the great outdoors. The tomatoes have had a hard time with the damp weather—I started them from seed—but I think there will be enough . . . and some to give away as well. Alas, the wet winter was hard on the birds: the robin population was hit hard, including the one that has visited us for several years. At least we have a pair of blackbirds.
But the thought that finally dragged me out of bed was this: I have given up on the church. Finally. Probably permanently. I had great hopes for the new Dean of the cathedral, but the election did not produce the correct result to generate a renaissance, and all the things I find most depressing are probably going to get worse. I shouldn't be so pessimistic, perhaps, but the trajectory for the last half-century has been forever downward.
One of the wonderful things about Rowan's Foreword to my book is that he agrees with me on these specific points—there's no need to enumerate them; you all know what they are. It isn't just that he is agreeing with me; rather that it reassures me I am not just grousing for no reason, or being self-deluding. There is always this niggle of self-doubt—which I think is very healthy—when I really get going—and of course in the book I really do get going!
I have forced myself to go to church every Sunday this Lent as penance: one shouldn't have to use the institution that way. I've attended even when the person the mere sight of whom makes me lose the will to live has been there, though thankfully not presiding. The one Sunday this person did preside I had the happy excuse that a friend from Germany was preaching at another church. But I have been trying to recognize the former person as a human being; just sitting in church trying to realize that fact in my mind, even though I know through his/her preaching and refusal to engage that this person regards all laity as idiots and ciphers. I don't apologize for my difficulty; I'm in good company: at a recent public lecture Rowan was only half joking when he said that in his next life he was going to be a Quaker. But that's not a live option, either, at least not in this life: the Quakers are just as riven with divisions and schlock as we are.
But it was a shock to realize how far my feelings about institutional religion had gone. I thought I had already hit bottom a long time ago. Evidently not. I quit going to church for much of the winter: in part I couldn't risk my feeble chest in the bad weather; but I wasn't sorry. But then missing the liturgy, which I always do, and the lack of singing hymns, overwhelmed me to the point that, like an addict in need of a fix, I started going again under certain conditions, even though I realized how really reprehensible this was; even though there is no genuine worship. Even though I normally feel that it is better to stay away than be cranky from despair at what goes on. Or doesn't.
I am really looking forward to Holy Week when I go to Devon. At midnight on Easter Eve we will light our own new fire in a brazier of medieval design, outside under the Paschal moon, with the owls calling and the new lambs bleating in the night, and the dogs having hysterics because we have locked them in the house. We will do it even if it pours with rain. My friend will come up with wonderful and wholly appropriate contributions for the liturgy and the haunting chant of Exultet will pour of its own accord from what is left of my throat. We will hear the stories of creation and the dry bones, and Christ rising from the dead.
We will do all this, and, only a stone's throw from us, the exquisite 14th century church that is—or was—at the heart of this hamlet will be dark.